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  1. Blog
  2. Interviewing
  3. February 4, 2021

4 Panel Interview Challenges & How to Overcome Them

Plus, tips for making a virtual panel work

Woman sitting on her couch while looking at her computer
Photo courtesy of Brooke Cagle

“I love panel interviews!”

Said no one...ever. 

Panel interviews are notorious for being even more panic-inducing than traditional interviews. Even if you excel at interviews, you’ve probably found that panel interviews still require a bit more preparation. But, there’s hope! You can survive a panel interview by keeping a few best practices in mind (and doing the usual prep beforehand). 

What do I do when I find out I have a panel interview? 

Congratulations! Getting an interview means you’ve made a good impression on the employer. Once you learn about your panel interview and read any instructions you receive carefully, ask these questions so you can effectively prepare:  

  • How many people will be on the panel?

  • Can you please tell me a bit about the panel members?

  • Is the interview going to be in-person or virtual?

  • Will this be the only interview or will another interview follow?

  • Will each member of the panel have a copy of my resume?

Resolving common panel interview problems

For most job seekers, the trickiest part of mastering the panel interview is overcoming four common problems: engaging with each person, staying calm, juggling feedback from multiple people, and answering multi-part questions. As you prepare, keep these pointers handy to ace the panel interview.

The problem: You find it challenging to engage with everyone.  

The solution: You may meet up to four interviewers simultaneously, so feeling nervous about engaging each of them is normal. Take your time and carry the conversation at a pace that feels natural for you. 

The example: “To answer your question, Ava, I think that remote work will absolutely have an impact on the tech industry. I just recently read an article about how reskilling the workforce is going to be central for tech companies to optimize remote work and take full advantage of artificial intelligence...”

“...And, Erin, to your question, I don’t anticipate any issues with working remotely. I have worked remotely in two of my most recent roles, and maintained my productivity without any issues.”

Read more: How to Make a Great First Impression, in 5 Parts

The problem: You can’t keep calm during the interview.  

The solution: Whether you get common interview jitters or you suffer from anxiety that is induced by social interaction (such as social anxiety disorder), you can take your time with answering questions. In addition to other treatment options, Very Well Mind recommends social skills training. Social skills training can help you learn how to stay calm during your interviews, and improve in key areas, such as maintaining eye contact and being assertive. 

For solutions that you can implement a bit sooner, consider the following:

  • Complete a mock interview. 

  • Practice controlled breathing.

  • Avoid caffeine beforehand and try to eat a good breakfast (or lunch). 

  • Be honest about your nervousness (example below).

The example: “Please excuse me, I’m a little nervous. But, that’s just because I want to do well today. This seems like a great team and I’d be really excited to join.”

You may think it’s unwise to directly address your nerves, but saying it out loud can actually help you shake it off and move forward.

Read more: 8 Tips for Dealing with Anxiety in the Workplace

The problem: You struggle to juggle feedback from multiple people 

The solution: In addition to interview questions, you may get “small talk” from interviewers. Invite other panel members into your conversation if you get overwhelmed (and listen out for any tidbits they share about company culture, morale, or work environment). 

The example: “I actually love that place you mentioned on 21st street, the food is really good and the service is great.” 

*Encourage others to join in* 

“Alex, I think I heard you mention earlier that you all try to support local restaurants during team-building lunches. Have you all tried the place on 21st street? How do you usually choose where to go?”

Interviewers typically go into panel interviews with a “round robin” approach to asking questions, but there are few rules to “small talk.” Complete one thought at a time and conserve your energy. This helps you stay calm, offer thoughtful responses, and command the conversation—all attractive qualities that hiring managers value in job candidates. 

Read more: How to Listen Effectively (& Why You Should)

The problem: You’re not sure how answer multi-part questions  

The solution: Getting hit with a multi-part question during a panel interview might feel like the kiss of death for acing the interview, but it’s not. If an interviewer asks a multi-part question, remember that it’s okay to ask them for repetition, clarity, or a moment to think about it. 

The example: “Tell us about a time when you worked with a team to manage a complex project. What purpose did the project serve for the company? What was the outcome of the project? And, what skills did you exercise by completing the project? 

“That’s a great question. As the Senior Project Manager with XYZ Company, I led a team of eight associates in completing a detailed project that lasted for six months, from start to finish. It was the first project we worked on for a client we really wanted to keep working with, so it was important that every aspect be done well. By implementing the waterfall methodology, we were able to help the client increase sales by 16% and boost community engagement by 30% in one quarter...”

“...I do believe there was a third part to your question. Can you repeat that last part, please?” 

Tips for a successful virtual panel interview

Today, it’s more likely that your interview will be by phone or video call. Luckily, you can use the same solutions outlined above. To maximize your chance at a successful interview in a virtual space, consider these tips before starting your interview: 

  • Check your internet connection ahead of time. 

  • Try the link to your interview beforehand. 

  • Don’t send chat messages to individual members of the panel. 

  • Arrive early to start engaging members of the panel. 

  • Ensure good lighting - each interviewer should be able to see you clearly.

  • Be mindful of your facial expressions - a panel interview means a few more eyes are on you.

Read more: 14 Tips for Skype Interview Success

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Photo of Kaila Kea-Lewis

Kaila Kea-Lewis

Contributor

Kaila Kea-Lewis is a career coach and freelance writer, mainly covering career changes, job searching, and self-development. As a long-time advocate for remote work, she also enjoys writing about remaining productive while working from home. Her bylines include InHerSight, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, and ZipRecruiter.

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